GongLiao Half Marathon – 貢寮路跑 – 舊草嶺環狀線

GongliaoIMG_20150118_062346It was a 4 am wake up for us in Taipei as we made our way to the infamous Fulong Beach for the 7 am race start. We negotiated staying in Fulong Saturday night but decided against it. The first train left at 5am and got in at 6:20 leaving us with plenty of time to make it to the starting gate. Surprisingly, at this hour, we had trouble finding a seat on the train, as many runners seemed to have the same idea. Stop after stop, early morning fishermen boarded the train, a train usually reserved for themselves, today filled to the brim with runners. An hour and a bit out of Taipei and we had arrived at Fulong, we disembarked and followed the crowds a few hundred meters to the starting gate. VIRB Picture

Bag drop off was relatively quick and then it was already time to line up for the race. Although there were many people lining up near the start, this was a small race so we were able to make our way to the front. 7 am and we were off! The course wound around some wide rural roads that were completely empty this early in the morning, before turning into a small pedestrian path. Luckily, these first 3kms were enough to thin out the crowd of just over 600 runners participating in this 21km race. VIRB Picture

The first 2.5 kms were run with the participants of the 5km fun run, after which we raced around bicycle paths and eventually into a tunnel. These first kilometers were well marked, but I could already see that my GPS watch would be unreliable this morning, perhaps because of the overcast sky or the mountains nearby. Once we got into the tunnel I lost all hope that my watch would record an accurate run.

I had no idea how long this underground section would be, and according to the course map we were to incline steadily (200m in 1.8km) only to encounter a steep downhill section (200m in only 0.4km of running). This hill made me nervous and I anticipated both the climb and the descent to be exhausting. Luckily, it never came, the course map was also altered by the lack of GPS signals and the 2.4km of tunnel consisted of small rolling hills, if any at all. Initially I expected not to be running underground for very long and was surprised by how seemingly unending it was. It took some time to relax and I realized that we would be underground for awhile, once I began to ease up I found this to be the most pleasurable part of the run. Without any wind and hardly any elevation change, running through this long tunnel became almost effortless. I wasn’t able to get any pictures, despite its length, because of the low light.

VIRB PictureBut this tunnel inevitably had to end, and although I was sad to see it go, the cool, fresh ocean air was a nice change of pace. From here we ran along the coastline north towards Fulong. The scenery didn’t change much but I was surprised to see an impressive number of fisherman wandering along the puddles of sea water, or casting their line from shore on this gloomy Sunday morning. Running so close to sea level I would have expected it to be quite easy, but the wind was blowing against us and the salty air continued make my mouth feel dry. Luckily there were many aid stations along the route and they were easily spotted from afar with their large red tents.

We continued to follow the coast as it bent between the ocean on the right and the VIRB Picturemountains on the left. The course followed a bike path beside the highway, and although it was small it wasn’t restricting. Occasionally the bike path cut down towards the ocean and through some small villages until eventually we ended up in Fulong, close to where we had started, at the finish line.

Organization

I thought this was relatively well organized for such a small race. The timing was perfect for runners to catch the first train from east or west to arrive in Fulong in time for the start. There were a good number of aid stations along the route and they were well stocked. My only criticism of this event would be the lack of course markers showing the distance. My GPS watch never did recover any satellite signal for the rest of the VIRB Picturerun, so I really didn’t have any idea how fast I was going or how many kilometers I had left. The first 3km of the race and the final 3km of the race were the only kilometers marked. Overall, I would run this race again, it was accessible, relatively well organized and scenic.

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